Heartland's crystal ball review of the impact of the American Families Plan on HS and EHS.
Heartland staff, like many early care and education and Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) service providers have been watching the development of the American Families Plan closely. Currently, congressional leaders are engaged in negotiations to determine key provisions of the plan and it is likely some funds will be cut and specific provisions could be lined out due to disagreements and differing priorities among within-party democrats and republicans that are concerned about spending.
The plan includes a couple no-cost provisions that could be good for Head Start programs. First, the way the investment in state preschool is structured stipulates that for a state to access federal funds to expand state preschool, they must certify that all Head Start slots will be filled first and that the state will maintain their current investment in state preschool, so federal funds will not supplant state funds already designated for early childhood education. This provision is interesting in that Head Start is clearly at the table. However, many states lack systems for tracking enrollment across Head Start programs and it may entice states to enter into the landscape as Head Start program service providers even more so than they already are, creating more competition for children.
Another provision basically allocates funds for state preschool programs to use federal dollars to expand state preschool by providing comprehensive services. While the stipulation is to use Head Start as a foundation for universal preschool, we are watching this element very closely. For example, in some states that have tried to replicate Head Start through state preschool, there is a watered-down service model where only some of the comprehensive services are provided creating the illusion that families and children’s needs are met through comprehensive state preschool programs when they really aren’t. This provision is also relatively susceptible to a strike-out as it is costly and does not really resolve the childcare problem that is generating a lot of the interest in the changes to the early care and education system.
The childcare portion of the plan includes a provision to increase quality by providing funds to expand access to high-quality care through increased dollars for childcare subsidies so more families will experience a reduction in the cost burden and by creating a new model of care that replicates Head Start and Early Head Start. What we predict will happen with this portion of the plan is that a focus will be on improving infant and toddler care, via expansion of the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program, along with increasing the eligibility for childcare subsidies for families that are earning up to over 300% of the federal poverty threshold. A change such as this would be palatable to all sides of the aisle while addressing the high profile childcare problem. However, with cuts to the plan due to cost concerns it could be that only infants and toddlers and a smaller portion of families earning less that are working benefit from the increases.
Regardless, it is an important time to evaluate your program options, services, and the impact of the plan on your program enrollment. Within all these provisions are opportunities for Head Start and Early Head Start programs to benefit, but it will require flexibility and in some cases a revision of program service designs.